A 3-hour drive from Xiamen, in southeast China, takes you to Nanjing County where you will find the largest concentration of Fujian Tulous (福建土樓), or Hakka earthen roundhouses. Not until the 1950s did people, both within China and around the world, even know that tulous existed. Many of these large enclosed and fortified buildings were built between the 12th and 20th centuries by the Hakka Chinese. Hakka literally means “guest family” and they are Han Chinese who migrated from the north to south China. These tulou buildings made of earth are several stories high with all the rooms looking inward at a central open courtyard. They are usually found clustered around mountainous areas amongst rice and tea fields. The architecture of these structures are based on the need for defence from bandits, warlords, and wild animals. Most of the tulous have one entrance and there are no windows to the outside on the lower floors. Entire clans with the same last name live together in these fortified mud buildings, some built to house 800 people. The “apartments” inside are divided vertically with each family occupying 3 or more floors with living and dining rooms on the ground floor, storage on the second and bedrooms on the third floor. They exemplify an early type of communal living which reminds me of housing estates we have today. In the 1980s, the CIA spotted these large, circular shaped buildings via satellite and suspected they were nuclear missile silos. Further investigation proved that they were merely ancient earth buildings with local villagers living inside them.
We based ourselves in Yongding and stayed at the Hakka Tulou Prince Hotel which is supposedly the nicest hotel in the area. The hotel is very average but the food (only Chinese food offered) decent. We started our tulou exploration with the Gaobei Tulou Cluster in Gaotou village, of which Chengqi Lou (承啟樓) is the most famous and often called the “King of Tulou”. It was built in 1709 and is the largest of the tulous. It is different than some of the other tulous in that it is made up of four concentric circular buildings. The outer most ring is four storeys tall with 72 rooms on each floor. The second ring in is two storeys tall with 40 rooms on each floor. The third ring in is one storey with 32 rooms and served as the community library. The fourth ring in is a covered corridor surrounding the ancestral hall in center. In its heyday, more than 600 people lived in these 370 rooms in Chengqi Lou.
Entrance to the King of Tulous – Chengqi Lou
The four concentric circles of Chengqi Lou
When the residents return to the tulou after a day in the fields, they bathe on the ground floor and these wooden cabinets along the wall are used for keeping clean changes of clothes and towels, etc.
View from the top floor of Chengqi Lou, make sure you go after 4pm if you want to go upstairs.
The ancestral hall at the center of Chengqi Lou
The packed earth walls are made mixing earth with stone, wood, bamboo, and sometimes glutinous rice and other grains, and are up to 1.8 meters thick.
Most tulous are round but there are also rectangular and oval ones.
The tulou structure is built without using a single nail. Holes are made in the rammed earth outer walls and wooden stilts are placed to create the interior storeys.
Most of the ground floor rooms have been converted into shops selling tea and trinkets.
Most of the Hakka people worship Guanyin bodhisattva
We started the following morning at Ta’xia Village (塔下村) which is a Hakka Village built along the banks of a brook in the Ming Dynasty by the Zhang Family. There are more than 40 buildings in all kinds of shapes and sizes. The Zhang’s Clan Ancestral Hall here is one of the most well-preserved ancient clan houses in China. There are 22 stone flagpoles next to the pond in front of the ancestral hall, built to commemorate those who have contributed to the family.
Zhang’s Clan Ancestral Hall
Stone flagpoles at Zhang Ancestral Hall
Not far from Ta’xia Village is Yuchang Lou (裕昌楼) located in Xiaban village. Yuchang Lou was built in 1308 and is famous for its tilted pillars. Some of the pillars tilt at a 15-degree angle but the building remains standing for over 700 years. Yuchang Lou is five-storeys high with 50 rooms on each floor and has an unstable look because of the crooked wooden pillars.
The holes with black marks on the wall are chimneys. All tulous have kitchens on the ground floor and that is why the chimneys are also low on the building.
Inside Yuchang Lou
Check out the tilt in the columns.
Diagonal support beams have been added to the building hundreds of years ago for fear it might collapse, but it remained standing for over 700 years.
Check out my next post: Fujian Tulous Part 2 where I visited several other tulous and Yun Shui Yao village.
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